Bloating, gassy, cramps, heavy, uncomfortable? One minute you can’t go to the loo and the next minute you can’t get off it? No one should have to live with the pain and embarrassment of digestive troubles.
A possible cause is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
It’s incredibly common. According to Guts UK, a charity set up to promote awareness of and funding for digestive problems, it affects up to a third of people at some stage or another and it is one of the main reasons people visit their doctor.
As nutrition professionals will tell you, there IS hope. A consultation with a nutrition professional specialising in digestive health will be able to, in the first instance, provide some natural solutions (foods, natural supplements, and mind-body therapies) and work with you to find the root cause. If you know the triggers, then you can take steps to manage and control your digestive symptoms.
In my experience IBS can be due to:
1. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Around 60% of people with IBS have SIBO. This describes a condition where bacteria manage to grow and thrive in the small intestine. The small intestine shouldn’t have any bacteria, and each day the body should perform a flush to sweep bacteria from the small intestine and into the large intestine. This flush is called the ‘migrating motor complex’. For a huge variety of reasons (historic food poisoning being the most common, but also low levels of stomach acid or adhesions play a role, among others) the bacteria are not swept away. The trouble is that these bacteria can ferment the food in your small intestine, causing gas, belching, bloating, pain, and a variety of other symptoms, including constipation and/or loose stools, and even anxiety.
A breath test can establish which gases are present, and then a nutritional professional can devise an action plan based on your results.
2. Food allergens and/or intolerances
It might be that you have a lactose intolerance. This is when your body is not able to tolerate lactose, a type of sugar found naturally in milk and other dairy products. It might similarly be fructose malabsorption. Again, some people are not able to absorb fructose and symptoms (e.g. bloating, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea) are very similar to lactose intolerance. Gluten is a known food allergen for coeliac disease, but some people can be non-coeliac gluten sensitive and experience IBS symptoms like those described above.
Your GP can test for coeliac (blood test) and lactose intolerance (breath test).
3. Dysbiosis, an imbalance of intestinal bacterial populations
Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the levels of beneficial (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the large intestine or colon, potentially caused by antibiotics, stress, high sugar diets, and alcohol. Symptoms can vary from a sluggish bowel or diarrhoea, pain, bloating and flatulence, to chronic bad breath, joint pain, fatigue, and food sensitivities. Dysbiosis is also implicated in a variety of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
A stool test can show a view of your bacterial population and establish whether your gut bacteria are out of balance. Other stool test markers might help you understand the root of your digestive problems.
4. Yeast overgrowth
Simply, the gut environment gets out of balance (due to dysbiosis) such that unwelcome yeast can thrive. Diets high in sugar feed the yeast – although if you think you might have a yeast overgrowth, it’s worth noting that long-term yeast problems can mean that the yeast cells are pathogenic or disease causing, and that the yeast has switched its metabolism to also be able to digest protein and fat. Symptoms of yeast overgrowth include recurring thrush, gas or bloating, fatigue, bad breath, cravings for sweet foods, joint pain, and brain fog.
A stool test can establish the presence of candida or other yeast overgrowth.
5. Air Swallowing
Do you talk while chewing? Do you eat quickly? Do you breathe through your mouth when talking? or anxious? In all of these, air is swallowed in through the mouth, rather than through the nose. Air in the stomach can result in symptoms of belching, nausea, reflux and a bloated or heavy feeling due to the pressure on the stomach walls. If air makes it all the way down to the abdomen it may result in bloating and pain until passed as wind.
In some cases, digestive problems can be tricky to solve, and it almost always involves a lot of detective work. Some people struggle with digestive problems for years. If your symptoms are hampering your life in a significant way, I want you to know that there ARE things you can do. Although IBS might be very common, it is not normal to experience the symptoms you do. No one should have to live with the pain and embarrassment of digestive troubles.
What can you do about your IBS now?
There are some simple tricks you can put into practice today that might make enough of a difference to help you get your life back on track. I’m going to tell you what they are in a moment.
I also want you to consider the degree to which your symptoms bother you. Are you satisfied with just covering up the symptoms and hoping for the best? That might be enough for you. If it isn’t, and you are ready to make fixing your digestive health a priority, I can help you get an idea of what you can do right away and what might be possible for you.
10+ ways to improve your digestion
The following suggestions are very simple but surprisingly effective at helping with symptoms of digestive distress.
- Try drinking a cup of hot water or ginger tea before meals to stimulate digestion. Try a cube of fresh ginger grated or chopped steeped in hot water.
- Apple cider vinegar (with the ‘mother’, raw and unfiltered) to stimulate digestive juices – take 1 tsp in a half glass of water before a meal.
- Think about your food before eating it – the thought and smell can trigger the digestive process to produce digestive enzymes and stomach acid to break down food.
- Take time to eat and make sure you’re chewing properly. Imagine you had to spit out the mouthful, no one should be able to tell what you’ve been eating.
- Try a few cubes of pineapple or papaya before a meal and/or eat one kiwifruit per day. These contain enzymes that can boost your digestion. You might also consider taking a natural digestive enzyme supplement from a health food store to support your body’s natural digestion process.
- Take a 15-minute walk after eating if you can. This can lower blood sugar levels and improves digestion.
- Develop a regular meal pattern to help your digestive system have its own routine. A missed meal can confuse bowel movements. A large meal after a long period of no food can lead to discomfort and/or diarrhoea.
- Drink 1.5/2L of water throughout the day. This includes juices, tea, and herbal teas. Water is needed at every stage of digestion, especially for absorption and gut motility.
- Don’t eat at your desk. Doing something else while you are eating may mean that you gulp down your food or not chewing properly. Neither are good for your digestive health.
- Don’t eat ‘on the go’ or when you’re stressed out. You won’t digest your food properly or absorb the nutrients. This can be the quickest way to get heartburn.
- Don’t talk while eating. Swallowed air may lead to bloating, gas, and abdominal pain until passed as wind.
- Don’t eat fruit aftera meal. Fruit likes a quick passage through the digestive system. It can get stuck behind other foods that are digested more slowly and then ferment, causing gas.
- Don’t drink too much liquid (water or other fluids) with your meal as this dilutes the stomach acid needed to digest your food properly.
- Don’t drink a lot of caffeinated drinks. Caffeine is a stimulant and can make it difficult for the intestinal walls to relax for digestive processes.
Be aware of
- Usual suspect irritants for the stomach include very spicy foods, acidic foods (e.g. citrus), raw vegetables (like cucumber, red pepper, onions), alcohol, fried foods, and rich foods.
- The amount of fibre you eat – too much or too little. To improve digestibility of fibre by soaking (e.g. quinoa, rice), stewing (e.g. apple), grating (e.g. carrots), blending (e.g. beans), and chopping foods.
If you’re sick of feeling bloated, gassy, crampy, or going to the loo too much (or too little), and feel like your digestive symptoms keep your life on hold, book in for a free 30-minute digestive health check by clicking this link.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is explanatory in nature and/or provides general dietary advice. It is not personalised nutritional and lifestyle recommendations.